Reflections on my first international conference at ACSM 2019 – Chloe Forte

In May of this year I, along with a good group of my friends and colleagues from PESS, travelled from Limerick to the USA for my first international conference. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Annual Meeting was held in Orlando, Florida. ACSM is a broad conference focused on sports medicine, exercise science, physical activity and health and brings practitioners and researchers alike together. Drs Matthew Herring, Ian Kenny, Tom Comyns and Giles Warrington, as well as students Tom Aird, Caoimhe Tiernan, Caithriona Yeomans, Brett Gordon, Karl Fleming, Emmett Crowley and I were part of the UL group from PESS who attended the conference to present our research on a variety of topics from sport science and physiotherapy to physical activity and mental health. With this blog post, I intend to give a personal reflection of my experience of attending a large, international conference as an early career student researcher.

On first impressions, it was hard not to be intimidated when you entered the convention centre, a venue that could probably contain the whole of UL! The huge hall was packed with busy people, hundreds of poster boards and countless rooms. So, this brings me to my first tip; go early so you can register for the conference without hassle and find out where your poster/presentation will be held. Once you know where (and when) you need to be, it is much easier to relax and take it all in.

Don’t get overwhelmed by the number of symposiums, talks and poster sessions that run throughout the course of the conference. Before I left for the conference my supervisor, Dr. Matthew Herring, gave me some useful advice about what to attend. He said, ‘I would encourage you to focus on content and analyses that interest you’. A day at the conference is long, and while it is very tempting to go to as many sessions as possible I would advise you to be selective and choose sessions that you are most interested in and will honestly enjoy. Thankfully, ACSM has a very handy app for this.  It has a schedule that you can personalize for all the talks you wish to attend, and it will send you reminders before they begin. My second tip is to choose sessions based on interest and enjoyment, and know what sessions you wish to attend and keep a schedule so you don’t miss any. Also, get a map of the conference centre, it can be a lifesaver!

My poster session was entitled Mental Health through the Lifespan and I presented research on Differences in Depressive Symptoms Across Physical Activity Levels Based on Comorbid Anxiety and Depression Status (Chloe Forte, Dr. Cillian McDowell, Dr. Ciaran MacDonnacha & Dr. Matthew Herring). Although I was nervous, once I began to speak about my poster I completely relaxed and thoroughly enjoyed discussing my work and getting to know people researching similar themes. I allowed myself 10 minutes at the end of my session to view all the other posters in the area and to ask questions to the authors on their research. By doing this I learned some different approaches to mental health research and made some useful connections with other researchers in my field. If you are presenting a poster in the future I would recommend you allow yourself time at the end of the session to get to know the other presenters as well as reading their posters. After all, the people in your session are more than likely the most like-minded people to you at the conference!

As I said, ACSM is a large, all- encompassing, sport and exercise science conference and sometimes it is hard to find things specifically in your field of research. Special Interest Groups (SIG) are a great way to discuss topics directly in your area and meet key people in a somewhat more relaxed environment (they often have time dedicated to networking). I am a member of the Psychobiology and Behaviour SIG at ACSM. The SIG meeting allows you to voice your own opinions and contribute to programming ideas for next year’s meeting. Also, if you know which group you will be attending in advance check and see do they have any student awards that you can apply for.

As I mentioned earlier, quite a large group of us travelled to the conference.  The PESS department is very good at supporting faculty, research staff and students.  It can mean a lot to people to see a friendly face in the audience while they are presenting, or to visit someone while their poster session is on. This year ACSM featured the World Congress on Exercise is Medicine. A fitting theme for UL as Dr. Matthew Herring received an award for achieving Silver Level status for the Exercise is Medicine on UL campus. It is important to remember that you are a representative of the PESS department, the Education and Health Sciences faculty and UL when you are at an international conference and to support your colleagues in every way you can. That being said, don’t be afraid to make new connections with researchers from other universities across the world. Take advantage of the international conference and endeavour to meet new people while you have the opportunity!

Naturally, you can’t have all that work without a bit of play!  Before the conference began, we took a trip to Universal Studios and enjoyed all the roller-coasters that Florida had to offer. We spent some of our evenings relaxing by the pool and enjoyed the use of the gym in our accommodation. So, my final tip is, don’t forget to take some time off, relax, have fun and take care of yourself while you’re out there.

Finally, I would like to take the opportunity to thank the PESS department and the EHS faculty for giving me the opportunity to travel to ACSM in Florida this year. I hope my insights will be useful for any first-time conference attender in the future!

Chloe Forte is a postgraduate student in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences. She can be contacted at chloe.forte@ul.ie or twitter: @chloe_forte 

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